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Cricket news - Siraj buries ghosts of the past to topple KKR

Siraj picked up three wickets in his first two overs without conceding a run.

Siraj picked up three wickets in his first two overs without conceding a run.

In IPL 2019, when Kolkata Knight Riders met Royal Challengers Bangalore, Mohammed Siraj had to live through one of his most lonely nights on the field. The visitors were chasing 205 and were in a good position when Siraj dropped a sitter at the sweeper cover fence to give a reprieve to Chris Lynn. Virat Kohli, at long-off, had already started his celebration as he saw the catch went down.

Cap on his face, and expletives out of his mouth, the RCB captain made no attempt to hide his disappointment. In the same over, as Kohli tried to swap fielders, Siraj found himself starring at the ground. As some fans tried to prompt Siraj to look at Kohli, he shrugged them off expecting more heckling coming his way. It was a nightmare for RCB but probably even worse for Siraj. His 2.2 overs were hammered for 36 runs before he was removed from the attack for bowling two beamers in the game. KKR sealed a come-from-behind win as they chased down the total with five balls to spare with Russell making 48 off 13.

"The grind never stops," read an Instagram post from Siraj a few days later as he was subjected to more online trolling. On Wednesday (October 21), Siraj lived his best night in IPL against the same opposition. He not only shrugged off the battle scars left from the last encounter, he buried KKR four overs into the game. The pacer returned figures of 4-2-8-3 as he became the first bowler to bowl two maiden overs in a match in the history of the tournament.

Once Chris Morris found swing in his opening over, Siraj was brought in to bowl the second over. In his third delivery, he got the length ball to curve away from Rahul Tripathi. The opener opened the bat face and handed AB de Villiers an easy catch behind the stumps. Nitish Rana, KKR's No. 3, has shown a tendancy to fall to the short ball. Siraj, however, decided to stick to the plans given to him by the think-tank. The fourth delivery swung into the left-hander, nipped in just a little and took out the off stump to leave Rana and KKR rattled. The third wicket too had the batsman chasing and trying to cover for the away swing. On length, the ball left Tom Banton just enough to take the outside edge.

At 14 for 4 in four overs, KKR had no chance to come back. "I didn't think there will be much swing when I looked at the wicket," Siraj said after the game. "I had been practising with the new ball in the practice sessions and when I got the new ball, that also gave me the confidence. My natural swing is into the batsman but when my ball starting away in the practice sessions, I didn't think much of it. I just kept going with the flow instead of thinking why my inswing wasn't coming out properly.

"In our practise sessions, we have Devdutt Padikkal and Parthiv Patel. I bowl the same length to them which I bowled to Nitish Rana. I did the same thing in the game and was able to execute it well."

Even RCB's director of cricket Mike Hesson didn't think that the move to open the bowling with Siraj will give them such handsome rewards. "We saw in the last couple of games that the ball swung and we thought Siraj was a good option," he said during the first innings. "Once the ball swung, we knew Siraj was going to be our option. It was something we wanted to do on the fly. We know he's got a great seam position and if he hits good lengths, he's always in the game. We thought if he finds his length here, there's a little tinge of green, he can get us one or two. Never thought he'd get three."

It was all about keeping things simple on the night for Siraj. He's not the most consistent bowler when it comes to white-ball cricket and often has been found wanting in pressure situations. With a change in setting, the results too changed. The new ball did a bit and with batsmen not looking to attack him, he was able to own the new challenge thrown at him.

Siraj, despite his performance against KKR, isn't the most polished limited-overs pacer going around in India. His IPL record - 34 wickets from 30 games at an economy of 9.02 before this game - leaves a lot to be desired. Add to the fact that he's often seen the weak link - among Chris Morris, Navdeep Saini, Yuzvendra Chahal and Washington Sundar - means he carries the additional burden on his shoulder.

However, with a thundering performance in the bag, it's crucial Siraj uses the confidence to find the consistency to deliver under pressure. But for the moment, he's earned the right to celebrate the "magical performance" he's been craving for in the last three seasons. "I've always had a lot of support from the RCB setup. All I wanted to do this year was give a magical performance. I wanted to do something different this year. Whenever I used to think about my performance in IPL 2020 (before the tournament), I had made up my mind that I will deliver a performance to remember."

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